Research Concept Paper

What is a Research Concept Paper?

The Concept Paper lays the foundation for the applied dissertation process, providing an introductory form of communication between the doctoral student and the doctoral committee. Essentially, the Concept Paper acts as a tentative proposal; it allows the doctoral student the opportunity to define a research focus and obtain early feedback on the research idea. A well-planned Concept Paper will capture the interest of the dissertation committee and establish a clear plan for the student’s dissertation.

When is the Research Concept Paper Written?

The Research Concept Paper is completed prior to the dissertation proposal and serves as a development tool and summary of the planned dissertation. The Concept paper is a brief document. Depending upon the requirements of the specific school or academic program, the Concept Paper may range from as few as 2-3 pages to as many as 10-20 pages. The essential point of the Concept Paper is to explain the importance of a particular research project.

The Concept Paper initiates the dissertation phase of a doctoral degree, which follows the completion of necessary coursework and training and represents a culmination of the student’s learning. The dissertation is a student’s final academic effort to synthesize course material by applying their learning to a research project. The project is expected to add new information to the field of study.  The Concept Paper acts as a summary of this project.

The Concept Paper, although highly abridged, is comprised of many of the same items found in a dissertation. The specific elements of the Concept Paper may vary depending upon the academic program and the chosen degree. Programs typically provide a grading rubric that serves as an outline for the required components, and students are encouraged to follow those rubrics closely in developing their Concept Paper.

What are the Main Elements of a Research Concept Paper?

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Title page — provides a tentative title for the dissertation.  The title of the Concept Paper should be a stand-alone statement that can fully describe the project by summarizing the main idea of the manuscript.  The title should concisely identify the variables being investigated and the relationship among those variables (American Psychological Association , 2010).  Words should serve a useful purpose; avoid words that do not add substance or words that are misleading.  The title of the Concept Paper may become the title of the dissertation.

Statement of the Problem — provides the purpose for the research.  This section of the Concept Paper introduces the problem under investigation, addresses why the researcher wants to investigate this problem, and how the research findings may help address the problem.  Supporting documentation, including statistical data if available, should be used to emphasize the need for this research.  This section is one of the most important sections of the Concept Paper; it serves to gain the reader’s attention and support.  You care about the research, but the reader may need some convincing.  The first few sentences of the Concept Paper should intrigue the reader to pique his or her interest and encourage further reading.

As you begin to write the problem statement of your Concept Paper, consider your research.  First consider why the problem is important.  Consider how your study relates to previous work in the field, how you will link your hypotheses and objectives to theory, and how the hypotheses relate to the research design.  Finally, consider the theoretical and practical implications involved in your research project (APA, 2010).  A well-developed, concise, and clear problem statement will lay the foundation for a strong Concept Paper and the dissertation that follows.

Preliminary Literature Review
— provides identification of major literature that supports and validates the topic.  The literature review focuses on areas that offer support for new research and offers the student an opportunity to analyze and synthesize past research in the context of their present problem.  For the Concept Paper, the student should connect their research project to a theoretical model reported in the literature.  The most successful research projects have been based on the research of predecessors, and this section of the Concept Paper provides enough of a description of previous research to plant seeds in the mind of the reader suggesting more information is needed.  A strong Concept Paper is based on a wide-range literature review that is condensed into a summary of key points.

Goal Statement
— provides a broad or abstract intention, including the research goals and objectives.  This part of the Concept Paper tells the reader “who, what, and when” regarding the research goal.

Research Questions — provides a preliminary view of the questions the student will investigate.  Questions are based on theory, past research, and need.  These questions will direct the research methodology; their inclusion in the Concept Paper links the research problem with the methodology.  For some, composing the research questions may be the most difficult part of the research project, or possibly the most difficult aspect of writing the Concept Paper.  The questions will direct everything that will be done; therefore, it is important that they are focused to the main research problem.  These research questions will specifically direct the research and the type of analyses conducted; as such, their compatibility is essential.

An Abridged Methodology
 — provides the student’s best idea on how to conduct the research and analyze the data. The goals identified in previous sections of the Concept Paper should relate to the research methods described in this section.  For the Concept Paper, the methodology is simplified or summarized, serving as a general outline of the methods that will be employed.

Timeline — provides a range of time for completion of the project, highlighting key elements for each stage of the project.  This element is unique to the Concept Paper and provides the student structure for managing sections of the project within a realistic time frame.

— provides references to the material cited in the literature review and elsewhere in the Concept Paper.


American Psychological Association (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). (2010).  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. View